How to Become a Play Therapist in the UK

How to Become a Play Therapist in the UK iStock

Play therapists work with children to help them make sense of difficult life experiences or complex psychological issues through the activity of play. If a child is seen to be suffering from a psychological difficulty including depression, anxiety, ADHD, grief, domestic violence or trauma, a play therapist can help him gain an understanding of his experiences, decrease problematic behaviours and develop coping strategies with the child’s parents or carers.

What Do Play Therapists Do?

The duties of play therapists include:

  • Assessing the emotional needs of children in consultation with other professionals (schools, hospitals, social service).
  • Conducting therapy sessions for individuals or groups.
  • Making use of toys and creative arts including drawing, music and story-telling.
  • Developing a symbolic communication with children e.g. connection with symbols through play.
  • Creating an in-depth therapeutic relationship that promotes positive change in the child.
  • Working closely with psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and occupational therapists.

Work Environment

A play therapist can work in a variety of settings on a full-time basis, although most employers offer part-time jobs. As a play therapist you would usually work with children aged between 3 and 11 either in individual sessions or in groups of up to six children that take place once a week Monday-Friday and last around 50 minutes. You would probably be working indoors, either in the child’s home or at a school, and occasionally you may need to attend court to give evidence in a case of e.g. child protection.

However, since most employers offer part-time jobs, you may need to work for more than one organisation or work within another profession to get the full-time hours.


The national annual average salary for play therapists in UK according to the National Career Service:

Full-time Play Therapists

£25,000 - £33,000

Experienced Play Therapists

Up to £38,000

As far as the private practice is concerned, the BAPT - British Association of Play Therapists, suggest fees of between £35 and £70 per session that takes up to 50 minutes.

Entry Requirements

In order to become a play therapist you will need a good Honours degree in any of the following subjects listed below:

  • Psychology
  • Nursing
  • Social Work
  • Teaching
  • Occupational Therapy

In order to be able to work as play therapist you will need to complete a minimum of two years’ work with children of varying ages and families while volunteering or working towards getting professional training. As a matter of fact, employers will prefer you to have an approved postgraduate qualification and registration with the British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT) or Play Therapy UK (PTUK).

Entry Requirements for BAPT- approved postgraduate course:

  • A degree in a relevant subject as described above.
  • Two years’ experience of working with children and families.
  • Good physical and mental health.

Entry Requirements for PTUK- approved postgraduate course:

  • A degree or professional qualification gained through working in a related area such as teaching, nursing or social work.
  • Experience of working with children or teenagers using therapeutic play or arts.

Also, since you will be working with children, you will need enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) clearance for all training.

Important Skills

These are the skills and qualities that constitute a competent play therapist:

  • Empathy and open friendly manner.
  • Resilience and insight for working with children in emotional distress.
  • Creativity and good communication skills.
  • A broad knowledge of child development.
  • Ability to work with difficult behaviours without making judgements.
  • Ability to work alone and in a team.
  • Understanding of issues in regards to confidentiality.

Career Development

When you are studying towards your postgraduate qualification with a BAPT or PTUK approved course you will have clinical placements and supervision with qualified colleagues. As you soon as you complete your course, you can become a full member of the professional institutes and be recognised as a Certified Play Therapist.

In order to maintain your membership and stay up to date with industry developments, you will need to continue your professional development (CPD) by regularly attending courses and conferences and providing evidence of the quality of your work – clinical governance.

Job Opportunities

The employers of play therapists include:

  • Social Services Departments
  • Child Mental Health Services
  • Family Centres
  • Education
  • Independent Voluntary services

If you are passionate about helping children overcome mental health issues relating to emotional distress, then perhaps being a play therapist is the right career for you. You can search for relevant jobs on NHS Jobs and Therapy Today.


Image: iStock